Review of reviews: Film
La La Land
Directed by Damien Chazelle (PG-13)
Two L.A. dreamers fall in love.
A freshly minted Hollywood musical has just hit theaters, and “it’s a movie with the potential to make lovers of us all,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time.com. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling co-star, and they’re “close to perfection” as two struggling creatives in contemporary Los Angeles. She’s an actress who can’t land a role; he’s a pianist who aspires to open his own jazz club, and “when their romance finally kicks in, it’s irresistible”—as are the songs the stars so capably sing and dance to. All is magic until about the halfway mark, at which point the music stops, “almost literally,” said Richard Lawson in VanityFair.com.
Directed by Pablo Larraín (R)
A look behind the former first lady’s veil
Both lovers immerse themselves in new work projects, and La La Land threatens to become “a regular old romantic dramedy” before a “sublime” final sequence restarts the orchestra and nearly washes away all memories of the midpoint lull. But that sag in the story is where La La Land shows its real savvy, said Todd VanDerWerff in Vox.com. After a first act that plays as “a swooning paean to falling in love,” the movie confronts the aftermath of romance’s bloom and eventually embraces the resulting emotions as its new musical palette. The result is a delightful confection that’s also “a surprisingly wise, bittersweet movie.”
The new Jackie Kennedy movie has “a mesmeric intensity” that makes it “unlike any other biopic of its kind,” said Scott Tobias in NPR.org. A plunge into the whirlwind of horror, grief, and necessary pageantry that the first lady endured during the week when her husband was assassinated, it zooms in tight on its star, and Natalie Portman responds by making the brave young widow “a ghostly figure who’s haunting the wreckage of her own life.” But this Jackie is also more, said April Wolfe in The Village Voice. As she witnesses LBJ’s swearing-in, packs to vacate the White House with her children, arranges a funeral parade, and gives her first post-assassination magazine interview, she maintains tight control of what the public will see. Portman, along the way, gets “the kind of dialogue an actress would sell her soul for: witty, provocative, layered.” Unfortunately, the spell Portman casts is at times broken by clumsier script passages, and the star is surrounded by actors who don’t look their historic parts, said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. In the end, Jackie is “a strangely conflicted film.” Sometimes “irresistible” and sometimes traumatizing to watch, it’s also an iconoclastic portrait that “can’t break loose” from the Kennedy myth it interrogates.
Directed by John Madden (R)
A D.C. lobbyist pursues victory at all costs.
Jessica Chastain has a knack for playing brilliant, severe women, and here she “pushes that gift to riveting extremes,” said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. Chastain’s Elizabeth Sloane is a Washington lobbyist who will betray anyone to get a job done, and when she quits her firearms industry– backed firm to join a push for gun-control legislation, it’s not clear what her true motives are. A “taut, twisty,” and “enjoyably overwrought” Beltway soap opera follows, fueled by “dazzlingly acerbic” verbal sparring. But despite the speed of the chatter, “it’s hard to stay fascinated,” said Jacob Oller in PasteMagazine.com. Political jargon muddies most conversations, and nearly every exchange follows the same smart-alecky rhythm, “leaving the audience beaten down.” Chastain keeps us watching anyway, said David Ehrlich in IndieWire.com. She “has the time of her life” indulging in her character’s cutthroat behavior, and “the less believable the movie gets, the harder the actress bulldozes through it.” Just don’t ask Miss Sloane to play like an exposé: It’s far better as “a revenge saga,” a story about people who usually lose in Washington putting the town to shame.